After a night of heavy drinking, most of us wake up the next morning feeling “the pain”. And no matter how many times you tell yourself that you’ll never drink that much alcohol again, you almost certainly will, and the dreaded hangover will inevitably strike back.
We feel horrible the next day for many different reasons. Hangover signs and symptoms include all of the following:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Excessive thirst and dry mouth
- Muscle aches
- Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- A hard time concentrating
- Mood issues like depression, anxiety, and irritability
- Rapid heartbeat
Let’s look in detail at each of these 10 common physical symptoms and understand their cause and impact in our bodies.
Fatigue and weakness
Alcohol interferes with your sleep patterns, so you will likely still feel tired when you wake. Although many people may feel alcohol helps them get off to sleep, it is actually a major culprit for disrupting your night as it can interfere with the body’s chemical processes needed for sound sleep. Waking up deprived of the vital sleep your body needs will leave you feeling drained.
Besides, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes your body to produce additional amounts of urine. For instance, one 250ml glass of wine causes the body to expel 800 to 1,000ml of water. That's four times as much liquid lost as gained. Fatigue is a common symptom of dehydration.
Excessive thirst and dry mouth
As stated above, alcohol is a diuretic. Other symptoms of the dehydration caused by alcohol include dry mouth, thirst, dizziness, and headache.
The alcohol contained in liquor, wine, and beer contains ethanol, which is a known cause of headaches. In addition to dilating the blood vessels in your brain, which can trigger a headache, alcohol is also a natural diuretic. This means that alcohol stimulates the body to excrete vitamins, minerals, and salt through the kidneys, which could lead to dehydration and chemical imbalances. Dehydration itself is also a common cause of headaches.
The ethanol contained in alcoholic beverages is also combined with other ingredients to improve its taste. These ingredients can contribute to the formation of headaches as well, especially when mixers may contain artificial sugars and sweeteners. Dark liquors are notorious for producing the most severe hangover headaches.
After a night of excessive alcohol consumption, gut bacteria can make their way out of the stomach and release endotoxins and enter the bloodstream. When this occurs your body starts to take essential nutrients that it requires from your muscles which can contribute to the feeling of sore muscles and aches.
Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain
Alcohol can cause inflammation of your stomach lining (gastritis), leading to nausea, vomiting and stomach pain. It also stimulates your stomach to produce excess acid and delays movement of your stomach contents into the small bowel, further contributing to nausea and vomiting.
Some people also have diarrhea because alcohol causes less water to be absorbed from the small bowel, meaning its contents are propelled along more quickly.
While many people find that they fall asleep more easily after drinking alcohol, they often report sleeping less soundly. This is because your body is rebounding from the depressive effect of alcohol, disturbing your normal sleep rhythm, so you won’t get as much deep sleep.
A review of 27 studies shows that alcohol worsens sleep quality. According to this review, alcohol does allow healthy people to fall asleep quicker and sleep more deeply for a while, but it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. In other words, alcohol may seem to be helping you to sleep, as it helps induce sleep, but overall it is more disruptive to sleep, particularly in the second half of the night.
Sensitivity to light and sound
The shakiness, sweating, and sensitivity to light and sound (often called photophobia and phonophobia) are common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Many scientists claim that hangover is a type of withdrawal from heavy drinking. This puts your brain in a supersensitive state — lights are lighter, and sounds are louder.
Along with this hypersensitivity, the body is battling an overload of acetaldehyde, the toxic byproduct of alcohol breakdown that contributes heavily to the misery of overdrinking.
One way to flush the acetaldehyde out of your system would be to enhance the enzyme responsible for breaking down acetaldehyde in your liver. This enzyme is called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). One supplement known to enhance ALDH activity is Dihydromyricetin (DHM), a natural extract that has been used for centuries as an anti-alcohol herb and hangover cure in Asia. Research shows DHM is able to help your body metabolize not only acetaldehyde by also alcohol itself.
A hard time concentrating
The impact of an excessive night of drinking can last far longer than the time it takes to become sober again. The symptoms of alcohol hangover are not just physiological – they affect cognitive functioning and mood as well. A recent study showed a 10% drop in performance of working memory and a 30% increase in errors when participants were hung-over.
Mood issues like depression, anxiety, and irritability
When the alcohol buzz hits, your brain gets a rush of dopamine in its reward center. That rush is the same thing that happens when you hang out with your romantic partner, win big at the casino, or get a notification on social media: You feel great, and you want to drink more to keep that feeling going. The problem is, that dopamine rush is short-lived with alcohol. When your dopamine levels come back down, it impacts your mood and anxiety levels for the worse.
The rapid heartbeats that you may experience after drinking alcohol aren’t unusual. The same type of rapid heartbeat can occur as a result of drinking caffeinated beverages, eating chocolate, and using other stimulants.
One study linked binge drinking to an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and coined the phenomenon "holiday heart syndrome," inspired by the notion that we're more likely to binge drink alcohol during the holidays, vacations, and social events. Another study concluded that the more alcohol you drink, the higher your heart rate gets.
FRIENDLY TIPS TO PREVENT OR REDUCE HANGOVERS
- Eat before and while you drink, since your body absorbs alcohol intake more quickly on an empty stomach.
- Stay hydrated by alternating between drinking alcoholic beverages and drinking water.
- Consider opting for light alcoholic drinks over dark ones—they tend to have fewer congeners, which are chemical substances that help give booze its flavor and might exacerbate hangovers.
- Stay within the bounds of moderate drinking, which is technically up to one drink a day for women and two for men (one drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits), or at least as close to moderate drinking as you can.
- Try to have just one alcoholic drink per hour so you reduce the chances of getting completely sloshed.